Video game adaptations that are cool-looking and narratively rich. You may well ask if they even exist, given the history of mostly mediocre projects that have sprung from the games (looking at you Resident Evil movies and Michael Fassbender’s 2016 Assassin’s Creed). So when Arcane premiered on Netflix late last year, the audience (including me) had zero expectations. But since its first episode landed on the streamer, the series has become something of a smash hit with a 100 per cent Rotten Tomatoes rating. The only question now is, why aren’t we talking about it more? The show deserves to be discussed for not only breaking the curse of the video game adaptations, but also for being its own unique beast.
Those who know nothing about the League of Legends game, and those who do, both the audiences will find something to relish in Arcane. It not only builds up on and gives a backstory to League of Legends’ beloved characters, but in turn develops a world in the animation genre, which is a blend of all possible exciting ingredients you can think of. There is magic, science-fiction, the good vs evil fight, pulsating background score and slick action to match. What’s not to love?
The story begins in the dystopian future with two cities being inhabited by Arcane characters. Their world is divided into two halves — with Zaun being the underbelly, and Piltover as the haven for affluent. Zaunians feel overlooked, their streets are poor and the people, poorer. Meanwhile, Piltovers have everything they could dream of, flying ships, stylish buildings and luxurious apartments. Money flows. Zaunians have been trying for an uprising of sorts for a while now. The last time it happened, damages on both sides were devastating. The Undercity mafia Silco still wants to have a go at it though. Caught in this strife are two sisters — Jinx (Ella Purnell) and V (Hailee Steinfeld). Silco manipulates Jinx into joining his side, the so-called good fight but through the most evil means imaginable. That is the core of the first season, a filial bond that turns sour and pushes the larger plot forward.
The themes are many, with creators throwing mental health issues, drug problems and the capitalist have and have-nots angle into the show. But Arcane, unlike most projects, doesn’t do any of it disservice. Over its nine-episode run, creators Christian Linke and Alex Yee delve into the depths of Arcane world to emerge with a sleek storyline that boasts of stunning visuals. A blend of 2D and digital painting, Arcane’s animation is truly unique, which gives its already gritty story an edge.
In a December interview last year with the New York Times, Linke and Yee confessed that the sprawling magic cities and its universe building was inspired by The Lord of the Rings and Dune books. “It’s not easy to create rules around magic and this and that, and still create a relatable character arc…What both of those properties do really well is they take a look at the entire world and try to figure out how all of the elements play with each other,” said Linke and Yee. The makers have taken a few leaves out of the two fantastical epics and managed to run with them almost effortlessly. A brilliant example is how deftly Arcane deals with interpersonal relationships and tackling heavy, impossible themes of magic and science by the side.
With so much to sink their teeth into, the actors had a lot of room to play. All the voice performances are well-done, but the sisters’ voice done by Ella Purnell and Hailee Steinfeld is simply stellar. Purnell’s especially stood out as her character had a lot of things happening to her since the very beginning of the story. There was an innocent Jinx, a guilty Jinx, an almost repentant Jinx and deliciously devious Jinx that the viewers get to see over the course of the first season, and it is all done with incredible conviction.
Recently, Netflix announced its second season with a small teaser. Here’s hoping that Arcane flag continues to blow strongly with its upcoming chapter as well.
Arcane Season 1 is available to stream on Netflix.